As a physician at Grady Health System in the Department of Otolaryngology, I saw numerous patients that would seek medical help after their disease process had progressed to a point where they had limited treatment options. Day after day, month after month, and year after year, I saw patients with cancers that could have been treated easily if the cancer had been identified early. And each time I would say to myself that someone should do something about this travesty. One day, I finally realized that maybe the person that was supposed to do something about this travesty was me. I decided there was more that I could – more than I should do to help increase awareness on head and neck cancer. I then focused on the three zip codes that represented the areas that had the highest percentage of head and neck cancers that I saw in my clinic. All three zip codes represented medically underserved areas.
I began to go to homeless shelters, and community and faith-based organizations in those zip codes to meet the leaders and the people of those organizations and communities. I gradually started giving cancer prevention talks, focusing on head and neck cancer. Through this process, I began to see all of the medical problems that were not being addressed. I also began to realize that in many cases, people were just not aware of other options that could be taken that would improve their health.
I soon came to understand that sometimes it is not the size of the act – big or small – but it is the act itself that can put things into motion. That action can open the door to provide not only access through barriers allowing patients to get healthcare, but also offer a conduit for healthcare professionals to do what led them into medicine originally – to care for those most in need.